I wanted to talk about the benefits of well-run puppy training classes versus private training or residential training.
Firstly, well run classes should enable you to start the socialisation process with your puppy. You should have access to a controlled environment where meetings with other puppies are managed in a way that promotes confidence and feelings of safety. From the trainer’s perspective, classes can be very difficult as we have to be able to meet the needs of both confident, timid puppies and everywhere in between. It is not easy and requires a great deal of skill. Puppy classes should never be run by new starters, but by the most experienced dog trainers. Classes can be really good because puppies will also be stretched so that they can become more resilient. However, this should be done carefully so as not to produce traumatised puppies. Well run classes are great because they will follow a structure and a programme of developing what you are teaching your puppy so that if you come every week, your pup will be learning more and more. Well run puppy classes are great value for money and they provide social exposure to a wide variety of other pups and people too. This is difficult to achieve with one to one training.
What should I see in a well-run puppy course?
1. A well-run puppy course should have a limit on the number of puppies attending, and the numbers attending should be appropriate to the size available. As a general rule I would suggest that about four pups per trainer is about right. So, in a class of 8 puppies, there should be two trainers. The space should be able to comfortably accommodate this number of puppies. Each puppy should be able to have around 4-5 feet of empty space either side of them if they need it.
2. Some trainers use screens to help puppies that are either a little shy or very excitable. This should only be necessary for a few weeks and should only continue to be used if the puppy is clearly gaining confidence (or calming down) over the weeks. If the puppy continues to be anxious or over excitable, then other options should be discussed for this puppy. It might be that one to one training in a larger space would be better for this puppy.
3. We use use Adaptil sprays to try to improve the environment for more timid puppies. Adaptil is a synthetic version of the pheromone the mother dog produces after whelping. This pheromone has been clinically proven to reduce anxiety in puppies and dogs.
4. You should see structure. The course content should be appropriate for the puppy and enable progress to be made during the course. New activities should be added as the course progresses so that the pups are not being overwhelmed too soon.
5. You should see help being offered. If someone is struggling with their puppy, they should be offered help and other methods shown that might be more effective for them. There should be a degree of one to one support possible in well run classes.
6. The class should be reasonably calm and quiet. Barking behaviours should be addressed by the trainer so that the reasons for the barking can be understood and treated appropriately so that the puppy doesn’t feel the need to bark.
7. Your puppy should make some good friends, as will you. You can meet like minded people and meet up for walkies!
Here is an example of what a puppy class ought to look like. This is a Paws in Hand puppy class. We have an ABTC accredited Clinical Animal Behaviourist and Accredited Animal Training Instructor in this class. The ABTC (Animal Behaviourists and Trainers Council) is a regulatory body for dog training and behaviour.
One to One training
1. This can be helpful as it helps new clients to understand more about their own puppy and is tailored specifically to the client and puppy.
2. Targeted training. This can help with any issues that only occur outside of a class setting. It is also good for more complex issues that require more time to work on.
3. The down side is that one to one will not provide the same controlled socialisation experiences as well-run classes.
4. Another downside is that it is more expensive to keep attending one to one sessions than it is classes.
5. When the trainer is not with you it can feel a little lonely. You may also feel like you are the only one struggling, when in classes, you will meet others in the same boat!
6. Might be convenient if you work shifts that make it difficult to attend an entire puppy training course.
1. When you adopt your puppy, separation from the mother is traumatic. It will take time for your puppy to settle into his or her new home. The last thing you want to do is to add another separation trauma as this could lead your puppy to develop separation anxiety. This can be very long winded and costly to resolve, working with separation anxiety specialists. Attending residential training as a puppy adds separation trauma and can lead to long term separation related problems.
2. If you send your puppy to residential training, you will be missing out on the fun of training with your pup. Training your puppy is actually very easy if you work with a professional. The process of training also helps to establish a fabulous bond with your dog. You will lose all of this potential if you send you puppy away for training.
3. You will lose control over the experiences your puppy has. Negative experiences as a puppy can lead to long term emotional damage, even leading to aggression.
4. Although it might be convenient to have someone else train your puppy, when you get your puppy home, it is very likely that this training will wear off. This is because learning is ongoing and the owner needs to continually set and maintain behaviour boundaries and provide support to their dog. Often people then have to send their dog off for refresher training. This creates more separation trauma and costs a fortune. It would be better to work with someone who can teach you how to do this as the results will be longer lasting and the bond you have with your dog will be much better.
So, well run classes are generally much better than one to one training or residential training. However, poorly run training classes can be very damaging and can leave you worse off than if you never attended classes at all. If the trainer does not have good control over the class your puppy can easily feel threatened, lose control and continue to be out of control, or even become aggressive in order to feel safe in the presence of other dogs or people. Avoid classes that do not have a class size limit as these will not be controlled. Make sure you attend classes by people who are properly accredited dog trainers, ideally members of the Animal Behaviourist and Trainers Council as Accredited Animal Training Instructors. If your trainer happens to be an accredited Clinical Animal Behaviourist too, this would be even better as you can be sure that potential problems will be spotted early and the addressed so that this need not develop into a bigger problem as your pup matures. This is how we generally manage to have classes as calm as the video shows above.
Before attending any classes, it is wise to ask to observe one without your puppy; this way you will know what sort of class you would be attending. You have a video above to compare with so you know what a well run class should look like. Good trainers will have no problems letting you observe. After all, you would check your child’s school before making a choice, why should you not for your dog? To book our classes please see CLASSES.
If we felt residential training was the best for the puppy and the client, we would offer this as it is lucrative and could be much easier for us! But we genuinely believe that residential training can be harmful for your puppy (or even older dog) and often still leaves you needing help. We believe it is best to show you how, and we can do this very effectively in classes, or if you need more help, a one to one consultation can be arranged.Mostly, classes should give you what you and your puppy need and are a cost effective and fun way to train your puppy.
Denise Nuttall B.Sc (Hons) Applied Animal Behaviour, M.Res (distinction) Dog Cognition and Forensic Psychology.
Full Member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC)
Full Member The Canine Training and Behaviour Society (TCBTS)
Animal Behaviour & Training Council (ABTC) Registered Animal Training Instructor
Animal Behaviour & Training Council (ABTC) Registered Clinical Animal Behaviourist